CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—Facing elimination Saturday afternoon against Dartmouth, and with their bullpen having had to work hard in Friday’s loss to Coastal Carolina, the Kansas Jayhawks needed a big effort from their starter, junior lefty Shaeffer Hall, and Hall more than delivered.
Hall has had big games before. He threw a no-hitter against Air Force in the Jayhawks’ season opener. But that wasn’t with KU’s season on the line.
"I think after we got beat up yesterday on the mound, especially when you need to turn your team around, you start with the starting pitcher," Kansas coach Ritch Price said. "And he was really special today."
Against Dartmouth, Hall carried a perfect game into the fifth, retiring the first 14 hitters he faced. Hall, who walked just 10 hitters in 84 innings in the regular season, went to three-ball counts on the first two hitters he faced, then only had one more the rest of the afternoon.
Hall went the distance, pitching a five-hit shutout on just 98 pitches. He had just six strikeouts, but that was all he needed. Hall pounded the strike zone with a tailing fastball and kept Dartmouth’s hitters off balance, mixed in his changeup and curveball when needed and let his defense do its job behind him. The Big Green mounted serious threats just twice, loading the bases in the seventh and putting two on in the ninth, but he was able to get groundball double plays both times to keep the shutout intact.
"I was just able to throw all three pitches for strikes and get ahead of the hitters," Hall said. "I knew I got into some long counts there in the first inning, but I was able to get those hitters out. I was able to throw my changeup effectively and kind of get those hitters off balance."
"(Hall) was exceptional today," Dartmouth coach Bob Whalen said. "He widened out the plate by not only getting on his arm side at the bottom of the strike zone, but he widened the plate with his two-seamer that ran down and off the plate, so it almost seemed like you’re trying to cover two feet. He was able to come in hard to our righthanded hitters with enough velocity to make them respect that while working to the other side of the plate with something that was offspeed."
The Jayhawks’ offense built an insurmountable lead quickly, scoring twice in the first inning on a two-run home run by senior catcher Buck Afenir and then adding runs in five consecutive innings from the third through the seventh. The biggest blow was freshman first baseman Zac Elgie’s grand slam in the fourth that made it 8-0. The Jayhawks cruised from there, winning 16-0.
The win broke a three-game losing streak in regional play for Kansas, which is making its first NCAA appearance since 2006. The Jayhawks, the No. 3 seed in the Chapel Hill Regional, will await the loser of tonight’s winners’ bracket game between Coastal Carolina and host North Carolina. Thanks to Hall’s efforts and the re-emergence of their offense, the Jayhawks should have at least a fighting chance of pulling off two wins in one day.